The recovery community is moving toward a shift in the way we label ourselves and others who are living with a form of “substance use disorder”, also known as addiction. Why is there a sudden movement to change the way we regard such individuals? First, a brief look at the history.
When Bill Wilson, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, was struggling with his wild alcoholism in the twenties and thirties, it wasn’t okay to be an alcoholic. He had to keep running and keeping his drinking as much of a secret as possible. One hospital after another, one sanitarium after another, doctors were confounded by the “condition” Bill and so many others were demonstrating. Alcoholism wasn’t a well known term yet and the label alcoholic was not well known either. For those who knew it and used it, it was strictly medical, and brought a certain element of social shame. A man couldn’t get a job if an employer knew he had problems with alcoholism, because he was an alcoholic. However, it was in admitting he had a problem and realizing he struggled with alcohol that Bill started to find liberation. The anonymous nature of Alcoholics Anonymous was formed so that the program would not indict anyone unnecessarily and so that the program would run on attraction, rather than promotion. To protect their social lives, their families, their jobs, and their reputations, their identity as alcoholics was kept anonymous. Yet, the program emphasized that it is essential in the first step to identify oneself as an alcoholic. “My name is…and I’m an alcoholic” is a breakthrough statement to be made by anyone.
As time has gone on, the taboo of alcoholism and all of the social shame which goes with it hasn’t gotten any better. Today, recovery is becoming more mainstream as the nation faces an opioid crisis of unparalleled proportions. The shame and stigma of addiction and alcoholism is changing, but the deeply ingrained beliefs still prevail. In response, some are advocating to change the term to “Persons with an addiction” rather than addicts and alcoholics. Addicts and alcoholics are people. They do have addiction. They are not defined by their addiction.
Though the intention is well directed, it calls for a greater shift across all mental health. Should narcissists be referred to as ‘persons with narcissism’ and should we not call someone who is depressed, depressed, but a “person with depression’? Perhaps the answer is yes. This and many other dialogues are crucial for continuing important conversations regarding mental health and the disorder of addiction.
Lakehouse Recovery Center is a residential treatment program offering quality care in detox, inpatient, and aftercare programs. Our treatment focuses on integrating clinical, holistic, and integrative activities to teach clients how to truly thrive in recovery. For information, call us today at: 877.762.3707.